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Personality Change

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

A personality features a collection of traits that make an individual distinct—traits such as extroversion, openness to new experiences, narcissism, or agreeableness, which some people exhibit more strongly than others. But just because a term like "disagreeable" describes someone well doesn't mean the person necessarily wants to be that way. Procrastinators may wish to become more conscientious; those inclined to gloominess may hope to be more optimistic; the shy may long to be the life of the party. Many people want to change some feature of their personality.

Personality trait measures tend to be fairly stable during adulthood, psychologists have found. Yet research does indicate that there is room for personal evolution, especially over long periods of time as an individual matures. And whether one receives a personality makeover or not, with a little sweat and some luck, it is possible to break out of old behavioral patterns and act more like the person one wants to be.

How Flexible Is Your Personality?
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As consistent as a personality can remain from day to day, research indicates that the adult personality is more malleable than once believed. In studies, individuals do appear to change with age, on average—showing signs of maturation that are measurable through personality questionnaires. Deliberately trying to change one's personality is a different matter, but research has explored ways of doing that, too.

Is it possible to change your personality?

Probably. Extroversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and emotional stability are all traits that one may be able to deliberately increase, research suggests, though it’s not yet known how permanent such changes are. They also seem to require active engagement in efforts to change—merely wanting to is likely not enough. 

Does personality change with age?

Yes, for many people, it does. Research suggests that people tend to become, for example, calmer and more socially sensitive, and less narcissistic, on average. The idea that agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability tend to increase with age has been called the “maturity principle.” At the same time, people show marked consistency in terms of how their personalities compare to those of their peers, so someone who is more narcissistic than most may remain so over the years.

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How to Change Your Personality
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Interventions designed to get people to behave differently—such as by introducing oneself to new people, showing up early to an event, or other challenges—have, at least in experiments, seemed to move the needle on measures of personality traits. But such efforts may need to be consistent and sustained for (at least) a matter of weeks. Psychotherapy also seems to have the power to create positive personality change.

I want to be more extroverted. What should I do?

Engaging in regular social "challenges" might help. Students who wanted to become more extroverted and completed two or more psychologist-devised challenges a week tended to show increases in their questionnaire scores on extroversion over the course of a semester. The exercises ranged from simple steps like saying hello to a cashier or waving to someone who lived nearby, to more involved ones such as going to a Meet Up event or organizing a social outing.

How can you change a negative personality?

One of the clearest paths to changing a “negative personality” is treatment by a mental health professional, especially psychotherapy (including types such as cognitive behavioral therapy). The strongest reported effects are on the trait of neuroticism, which is sometimes called negative emotionality

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